The Southwest Florida Museum has merged with Imaginarium and is now IMAG History and Science Center.
When the passenger train service to Fort Myers finally closed in 1971, the former Atlantic Coastline Railroad Depot finally found a new use as the home of the Southwest Florida Museum of History. Re-opened in 1982, the old building is wonderfully laid out with exhibits telling the history of Southwest Florida, starting with the shark-like Megalodons that inhabited the area over 12,000 years ago.
In keeping with its former use, the Museum building still has the segregated waiting areas and two ticket office windows separating blacks from whites. One of the waiting rooms has the original tile flooring and fireplace is situ. The room is used as a cinema showing fascinating interviews with Fort Myers residents in a 30-minute film entitled “Untold Stories of Fort Myers”.
Calusa Indians and Cracker History
See the shells and artifacts left behind by the Calusa Indians and read gripping accounts of the Seminole Wars before Billy Bowlegs and his followers were relocated to Oklahoma. Learn about the local lumber trade with a model sawmill and plenty of equipment displayed on the walls.
The chronological flow of exhibits guides visitors through the three C’s of local history: cattle, citrus and cane. Florida’s cracker history as a cattle rearing area is told in detail with photographs and storyboards. There is also a recreated Cracker house in the grounds of the museum. The cedar pine walls, sloping tin roof and shady front porch were typical residences of local cattlemen and their families.
More recent Fort Myers history includes the arrival of Thomas Edison and his wife Alva, who was hugely influential in the development of the town. When the railway arrived in 1904, many more wealthy families built winter homes in Fort Myers including Henry Ford, the Firestones, and the Burroughs families.
Downtown Fort Myers First Street is recreated in miniature as part of the museum’s turn-of-the-century history. Peek inside the offices of Hendry Attorney, Blount’s General Store, Heitman Grocery and the Fort Myers Press.
Restored Railcar at the Southwest Florida Museum
Step outside to continue your fascinating tour in the 83-foot railcar in the museum grounds. The interior of the Esperanza railcar has been restored to its 1929-era luxury. Visitors can walk through the lounge, dining room and servant’s quarters onboard with a self-guided information card. Everything is laid out in historic detail including the personalized china, brass fixtures and compact sleeping compartments, each with their own bathroom. Learn how air conditioning was provided by strapping a block of ice to the front of the car to cool the air that rushed through the carriage!
Along with the permanent exhibits, Southwest Florida Museum of History has an ever-changing display of traveling exhibits. In the past these have included Treasures of Eden, King Tut and the Roswell Exhibit. The Museum’s newest exhibit, The Beatles 50th Anniversary Photography Exhibit began on January 24, 2014.
The museum also provides special programs such as Historical Downtown Walking Tours with a knowledgeable local guide during the snowbird season. Author’s evenings are popular with local residents and help raise funds for the museum. With a staffed Archive Research Center, the Southwest Florida Museum of History continues to document Florida history, making it available in an interesting and tangible way for residents and visitors alike.